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Keywords:

  • Angola;
  • East Timor;
  • forgiveness;
  • Guinea-Bissau;
  • intergroup process;
  • Mozambique

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References
  9. Appendix

Forgiveness is a key concept in many governance and responsive regulation issues. The notion of intergroup forgiveness was examined among people from four countries: Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and East Timor. Nine hundred and eighty-five adults who had suffered from the many conflicts in their areas, either personally or through injuries inflicted on members of their family, agreed to participate in a study that was specifically about seeking intergroup forgiveness. In all four countries, most participants of the study agreed with the ideas that (i) seeking intergroup forgiveness makes sense; (ii) the seeking process must be a popular, democratic, and public process, not a secret elite negotiation; (iii) the process must be initiated and conducted by people in charge politically, not by dissident factions; and (iv) the process is aimed at reconciliation, not at humiliating the group requesting forgiveness. Differences between the four countries were found regarding the extent to which (i) international organizations may be involved in the process; (ii) the demand must include the former perpetrators; and (iii) emotions and material compensation are ingredients in the process.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References
  9. Appendix

“Can whole nations repent? Forgive? Engage in processes that eventuate in collective repentance and forgiveness?” (Shriver 1995, p. 71) The present study examined the views on these matters of people from Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and East Timor who were recently involved in civil wars or wars of occupation and who, for the most part, had personally suffered as a result of the many regional and local conflicts. Forgiveness – seeking forgiveness as well as granting forgiveness – is a key concept in many governance and responsive regulation issues. “Forgiveness is the most powerful emotional tool for encouraging the perpetrators of evil and the contributors to evil to own their contribution. Nurturing forgiveness often requires considerable reticence in resorting to selective use of the criminal process” (Braithwaite 2002, p. 203).

Seeking forgiveness in daily life

Social scientists have increasingly been examining the potential relevance of interpersonal forgiveness in conflict resolution (Enright & Fitzgibbons 2000; McCullough et al. 2000; Lamb & Murphy 2002; Worthington 2005). However, a quick look at the index table of the recent Handbook of Forgiveness edited by Worthington (2005) suffices to convince us that if much work has been conducted on granting forgiveness, in contrast, the literature on the symmetrical concept of seeking forgiveness is scarce. This is unfortunate, given that from the personal level, to the family level, to the community level, to the country level, to the international level, the quality of our relationships with other persons (and with other groups) is largely determined by our ability to properly apologize and seek forgiveness from the persons (and from the groups) we have, intentionally or unintentionally, severely or slightly, durably or temporarily, harmed.

According to Sandage et al. (2000, p. 22), interpersonal forgiveness seeking involves cognitive empathy with those who suffer the effects of one’s negative actions, adaptive guilt or constructive sorrow, and reparative actions, including apology, confession, when appropriate, and restitution. Sandage et al. (2000) examined the relationship between willingness to seek forgiveness in concrete situations and religiosity, age, developmental level of reasoning about forgiveness, narcissism, and self-monitoring in a sample of college students. They found that seeking forgiveness was (i) not related to age or religiosity; (ii) positively related with developmental levels of reasoning about forgiveness; and (iii) negatively related with narcissism and self-monitoring.

Following Sandage et al. (2000), Basset et al. (2006) examined the factor structure of willingness to seek forgiveness in concrete situations. They found three factors that they called Hardness of heart (e.g. “Honestly, I think I have lost respect for the other person”), Seeking forgiveness (e.g. “I offered a straightforward and simple apology”), and Speaking the truth (e.g. “I have tried to speak the truth to the other person in a caring fashion”).

The literature on giving accounts for offenses that has accumulated within social psychology has shown that seeking forgiveness may not be an uncommon reaction. In a study by Gonzales et al. (1992), about 60% of the participants who were instructed to imagine themselves having offended a close relationship and to provide written accounts after their victims’ reproach explicitly acknowledged responsibility and guilt. Seeking forgiveness by offering sincere apologies may have profound effects on the victim and on the victim–offender relationship. In a study by Ohbuchi et al. (1989), participants who were psychologically harmed, but received apologies, were less prone to aggressive behavior toward their offenders than participants who did not receive apologies. Many subsequent studies using diverse techniques on diverse samples (Ohbuchi & Sato 1994; McCullough et al. 1997; Mullet & Girard 2000; Azar & Mullet 2001; Takaku et al. 2001; Frantz & Bennigson 2004; Zeichmeister et al. 2004; Ahmed et al. 2007; Mullet et al. 2007) have had results that are consistent with the findings of Ohbuchi et al. (1989).

Seeking forgiveness in an intergroup context

As forgiveness has long been conceived by moral philosophers (Kant 1960; Smedes 1996) and subsequently by clinical and social psychologists (Denton & Martin 1998; Worthington 1998; McCullough et al. 2000; Enright & Fitzgibbons 2000) as a process that can only involve people directly connected with the offense, that is, the individual offender and the individual offended, few studies have been conducted on intergroup forgiveness (Neto et al. 2007). The concept of forgiveness as a strictly interpersonal process does not take into account that (i) many, if not most, injuries in social life are collective ones; (ii) in war, in particular, offenses are committed not only against individuals, but against the whole society; (iii) responsibility for offenses is frequently shared by many individuals, at the same time or at different times; (iv) proper justice is often intractable; (v) confession must, to be complete, be a collective enterprise; and (vi) a proper cure can only be undertaken at a community level (Braithwaite 2002, pp. 169–210; Kadima Kadiangandu & Mullet 2007). These facts seem, however, to be understood by laypeople (Mullet et al. 2004; Kadima Kadiangandu et al. 2007), and they seem to have also been understood, at times, by some bold governments (Barkan 2000).

In his analysis of apology and reconciliation, Tavuchis (1991, p. 48) suggested three alternative structural conceptualizations of apology and forgiveness in addition to the interpersonal conceptualization (which from his viewpoint illustrated just the “One to One” scenario among four possible scenarios). The three other scenarios were (i) the “One to Many” case, where an individual apologizes to a collectivity (e.g. a politician apologizes to his/her voters), (ii) the “Many to One” case, where a collectivity apologizes to an individual (e.g. a tribunal apologizes to a person who has been unjustly condemned), and (iii) the “Many to Many” case, where a collectivity apologizes to a collectivity. In the present study, we chose to examine the “Many to Many” case because it seemed to be the most relevant to the concept of forgiveness in political settings in general and in peacekeeping settings in particular.

Shriver (1995) analyzed numerous examples of actions by political leaders that fall into the categories of collective repentance and collective seeking of forgiveness. As he contended (p. 113), “Whether leaders accuse an enemy of crime, confess to crimes of their own people, or hold out hopes for a future reconciliation, they do all of this on behalf of one collective in addressing another. To deny this representative, symbolic role to politicians is to impoverish their service to a society’s dealing with its past wrongs and its present corrective responsibility to the future.” One of the most poignant examples of public repentance behavior in recent history is that of German Chancellor Brandt who, during a stay in Warsaw in December 1970 for the signing of an important treaty between Poland and West Germany, visited the city’s memorial to the Warsaw ghetto uprising of 1943, and fell on his knees before the monument as if to express repentance for Nazi crimes against the Jews. Chancellor Brandt’s behavior had a profound impact on the populations of the two countries, as well as of Israel. Despite many criticisms from leaders of these countries, Chancellor Brandt’s public gesture of repentance facilitated reconciliation between Jews and Germans (as well as between Poles and Germans). Shriver (1995) also cited, as examples of forgiveness in politics, contemporary political figures such as Martin Luther King, the German president Richard von Weizsächer, the Japanese Prime Ministers Kiichi Miyazawa and Morihito Hosokawa, and such past political figures as the leaders of the 1865 Charleston Colored People’s Convention (see also Henderson [1996] for numerous examples of forgiveness in politics, and Barkan [2000] for numerous examples of the way some nations have been able to acknowledge wrongdoing and compensate their victims).

If Shriver had written his book today, his list would certainly have included South African President Nelson Mandela and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu. The National Reconciliation Movement that emerged in the early 1980s in Argentina culminated in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that took place in South Africa (Rothberg & Thompson 2000). The South African commission, which was based on the idea of intergroup forgiveness (Tutu 1999), showed

the possibility of progress towards bridging the divide peacefully in a post-conflict society. It facilitated the beginning of a dialogue between former opponents, between victims and perpetrators; through its special hearings into the role of different institutions in the apartheid era, it attempted to promote understanding; through living examples of pain, grief, and cruelty, it encouraged reflection on responsibility for past wrongs, whilst at the same time supporting the possibility of forgiveness; it understood the need for redress but did not seek to punish. In all these ways, and by the compassion and concern of the Commissioners, it offered hope for a better future (Jenkins 2002, p. 251; see also Braithwaite 2002, p. 203).

Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007) examined in detail the views and attitudes of laypeople regarding the meaningfulness of seeking intergroup forgiveness and the way in which seeking intergroup forgiveness, if deemed meaningful, could take place. The participants in their study were 500 persons from the Kasai provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), people who either had suffered personally as a result of the many conflicts in their area or had indirectly suffered through injuries inflicted on members of their family.

The material of the study consisted of a questionnaire containing reference to very concrete aspects of the process of requesting forgiveness, inspired by the work of Tavuchis (1991), Shriver (1995), and Digeser (2001) (see also Amstutz 2004). These authors suggested that the process of asking for intergroup forgiveness should be a public process conducted on the behalf of the entire community by some representative of it specifically mandated for that purpose.

A large majority of participants in the study by Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007) agreed that seeking forgiveness as an intergroup process makes sense. Only about 14% of the participants thought that it was not possible for a group of people to ask another group for forgiveness. This result was robust with respect to age, gender, and other individual differences. Also, participants appeared to have clear conceptions of what the process of asking for intergroup forgiveness could be. Asking for intergroup forgiveness was conceived above all as a democratic process. Participants agreed that public discussion and voting must take place before any concrete actions by politicians, and that the people who would speak on behalf of the whole group must be democratically designated. In addition, participants were willing to acknowledge a special role for religious authorities in helping to initiate the process of asking for forgiveness. Intergroup forgiveness was conceived as a collective and global process. Participants agreed that it has to be asked for on behalf of the whole community and has to involve all people and all the actions committed.

Asking for intergroup forgiveness was conceived in essence as a public process with special deference to the offended group. Participants agreed that the process has to take place concretely in several parts of the offended party’s territory, inside its symbolic buildings (e.g. the presidential palace), and using its language. Intergroup seeking of forgiveness was, however, not seen as a regional or continental process; in the view of the participants, it should be primarily a dyadic process, involving only the two groups concerned. The participants saw the essential aim of requesting forgiveness as promoting reconciliation between the two groups. They agreed that concessions should be made, if needed, to facilitate the process. In addition, they agreed that both parties should make plans for the future, namely, to live in a more interdependent and cooperative fashion. The process of asking for intergroup forgiveness was, however, seen as distinct from the initiation of a commercial agreement, a military treaty, or a judicial procedure.

Participants agreed that asking for forgiveness should occur not too long after the events. The process of seeking intergroup forgiveness was conceived as neither implying nor prohibiting the expression of particular sentiments or emotions from the people who ask for forgiveness. Items referring to the offer of various kinds of compensation also received only moderate agreement.

The present study

The present study was aimed at examining the generalizability of the results found in the study by Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007). The same items were used, and they were applied to samples of participants from Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and East Timor. In the recent past, these four countries have been involved in particularly bloody civil wars or wars of occupation. A sizable proportion of the population in each of the countries has been killed, raped, hurt, and dispossessed. Because we were based in Portugal at the time of the study, it was easier to work in countries that were formerly tied to Portugal and in which we knew colleagues likely to help with the study.

We wanted, in particular, to examine three points. The first point concerned the role of the world institutions (e.g. the United Nations [UN]) in the seeking forgiveness process. In their responses, the Congolese expressed clear reservations about the role of these institutions. This conflicted somewhat with Tavuchis’ (1991) views that the apologies offered by one group to another group should be “addressed to a wider audience as much as it is to the offended party” and that the forgiveness process also “speaks to interested third parties.” The participants’ desire to restrict the process to the two former enemies may have reflected their fear that the process might be inadvertently converted into a worldwide publicity campaign. To what extent do other groups share this (defiant) attitude toward world institutions (at least regarding intergroup forgiveness)?

The second point concerned the role of traditional authorities, that is, the local kings and chiefs. In their responses, the Congolese expressed clear reservations about the role of these authorities. To what extent is this (defiant) attitude toward traditional authorities shared by other groups in which traditional authorities have remained common references in cases of conflict?

The third point concerned the expression of repentance and contrition from the group seeking forgiveness. As suggested by Sandage et al. (2000, p. 22), seeking interpersonal forgiveness in daily life involves empathy with the person who suffered as a result of one’s negative actions, expression of guilt or sorrow, and reparations. These expressions, privately or publicly offered, are considered important by anyone who has been offended because they are an illustration of the extent to which the apologies offered by the offender are (or are not) sincere. Regarding the requesting of intergroup forgiveness, it is difficult to determine that, even in the collective case, expressions of repentance for the collective harm that has been done are unimportant. Although the results found in the study conducted in Congo are consistent with Tavuchis’ assertion (1991, p. 100) that the status of the involved parties “entails a stylized approach to language and way of speaking that allows little room for the kind of spontaneity, flexibility, or improvisations found in ordinary speech,” it remains to be shown whether this attitude of detachment is consistent with the expectations of other groups.

Methods

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References
  9. Appendix

Participants

The participants were 985 persons (428 women and 557 men) from Angola (n = 226), Guinea-Bissau (n = 356), Mozambique (n = 173), and East Timor (n = 230). Their ages ranged from 18 to 70, with a mean of 28 (SD = 9). Two hundred and thirty-nine participants (24%) had completed secondary education, and 393 had completed primary education (40%). Eight hundred and eighty-six participants identified themselves as believers in God, 874 declared that they were accustomed to forgive in daily life, and 768 attended (the Catholic) church on a more or less regular basis. Six hundred and twenty-nine participants declared that they had personally suffered from the civil war(s) and 809 that at least one close family member had suffered from it. Only 148 participants stated they had not suffered from the civil war(s) either personally or through the family.

All participants were unpaid volunteers and were approached in the following way. The initial participants were known by the experimenters or by members of their families. The experimenters contacted them directly, explained the aim of the study, and asked them to participate. After they had completed the study, these initial participants helped the experimenters to contact other people, and this process was repeated. Direct contact and mutual reassurance was an efficient way to convince people to participate in the study. Special efforts were made to contact people from different geographic areas of each country in order to maximize, as far as possible, the representativeness of the sample.

Material

The material consisted of the 77 item questionnaire used by Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007). Each item referred to possible attitudes about asking for forgiveness. As suggested by Ouedraogo and Mullet (2001), a large response scale was chosen so as to provide participants with more latitude for responding: a 17 cm scale was printed following each sentence. The two extremes of the scales were labeled “Disagree completely” and “Completely agree.” All of the items were labeled in an impersonal way in order not to reopen personal wounds that participants might still have. Directly asking people about accepting apologies from their specific perpetrators or the instigators of their suffering was judged to be inappropriate owing to the character of the present study – a survey. We were not in a position to assist the participants psychologically. It would have been irresponsible to put them at risk of reviving painful memories (Hamber & Wilson 2002).

Procedure

The data were gathered in 2004. Each participant responded individually in his/her own home, at the local school, or at the university, depending on what the particular participant found most convenient. The experimenter explained to each participant that he/she was to read a certain number of sentences expressing some feeling or some belief about asking for forgiveness and to rate his/her degree of agreement with the content of each sentence. As most participants in Angola, Guinea, and Mozambique were able to read Portuguese, the language of the questionnaire used in these three countries was Portuguese. As most participants in East Timor were not fluent in Portuguese, a Timorese version of the questionnaire was created. The initial questionnaire was translated from Portuguese to Tetum (the main language in East Timor) by a bilingual translator and then from Tetum to Portuguese by another translator. It was also submitted to several knowledgeable individuals in order to detect any inconsistencies (Brislin 2000).

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References
  9. Appendix

Each rating by each participant was converted to an agreement score. Scores that were higher than 10 (11–17) were considered as expressing agreement. Scores that were lower than 8 (1–7) were considered as expressing disagreement. The remaining three intermediate scores (8–10) were considered as expressing indecision.

Can a group of people ask another group for forgiveness?

Most respondents (88%) favored the idea that a group of people can ask another group of people for forgiveness. This percentage was significantly different from 50% (P < 0.001). Less than 10% of respondents did not favor the idea. These percentages did not vary considerably from one country to another (85% in Angola, 88% in Guinea, 90% in Mozambique, and 88% in East Timor). These percentages did not vary considerably as a function of age (87% for the young vs 88% for the old), gender (88% for women vs 87% for men), forgiveness habits (88% for those who frequently forgive vs 85% for those who do not), educational level (87% for the less educated group, 89% for the intermediate group, and 87% for the more educated group), and the level of personal suffering (85% for those who did not suffer vs 89% for those who suffered) or family suffering (85% for those who did not suffer vs 88% for those who suffered) during the war.

The process of requesting forgiveness

Of the 76 remaining items, 38 showed agreement that was higher than 55% or disagreement that was higher than 55%. For the other 38 items, the percentages were judged as too close to 50% to be considered further in this part of the study. They were considered as not sufficiently indicative of the presence of clear, majority conceptions about requesting forgiveness in the intergroup context.

The main message contained in the participants’ responses to the 38 items that clearly deviated from the neutral value was that members of the government of the requesting group are the ones who must decide about initiating the requesting procedure (66%), but, in any case, public discussions (66%) and a vote (62%) should take place in the requesting group’s population about initiating the requesting procedure. A fraction of the offending group (a political party, a majority) can decide to request forgiveness in the name of the whole group (65%). It is also judged acceptable that the Head of State (or the head of the group) initiates the process (56%). The request should, ideally, not take place too long after the offenses have been perpetrated (67%). It is, however, admitted that the request may take place a long time after the offenses (56%).

The request must be voiced in the place of government of the group to whom the request is addressed (80%) and in all cases in the territory of the group to whom the request is addressed (77%). It is also judged acceptable for the request to be voiced from a symbolic or sacred place of the group to whom the request is addressed (75%), from the House of Representatives of the group to whom the request is addressed (70%), from the UN (69%), from a symbolic or sacred place of the requesting group (69%), from the House of Representatives of the requesting group (63%) or, indirectly, through the TV (56%). It is not necessary that the request is voiced in diverse places of the group to whom the request is addressed (70% disagree). The request should not be voiced from the place of government of the requesting group (61% disagree).

The request must be directed to the Head of State of the group that is requested to forgive (70%). It should not be directed to the religious authorities (67% disagree). Speaking for the group should be the role of people in charge politically (74%). The request should be voiced by a single person (62%), ideally the Head of State (60%). It is, however, judged acceptable that the traditional authorities (63%), some particularly respected person from the requesting group (60%), the religious authorities (58%), or influential members of world institutions (58%) speak in the name of the requesting group. The request should not be voiced by the members of the government (70% disagree). It should be voiced in one or several languages with broad international diffusion (57%). It is not necessary that it is voiced in the language of the group that is requested to forgive (56% disagree).

Forgiveness should be requested only in the name of the persons who had not committed atrocities (73%), but it should not be requested in the name of only those who agree with the requesting forgiveness process (62% disagree). The request should be accompanied by expressions of contrition and repentance from the persons who were mainly responsible for the harm (71%), by acts of punishment of those mainly responsible (68%), by a donation of money (67%), by proposals for new kinds of complementarity (62%), or by offers to give up advantages that could compromise the reconciliation (63%). It should not be accompanied by an offer to give up arms (74% disagree) or by commercial offers (57% disagree).

Differences between the four countries

The Angolans, significantly more than the other groups (P < 0.001), disagreed with the idea that the request should be made a long time after the offenses have been committed (56 vs 42%), should be done in writing (58 vs 38%), and should be voiced only in the name of the persons responsible for the atrocities (61 vs 34%) or only in the name of the persons who agree with it (73 vs 59%). They also, more than the other groups, disagreed with the idea that the request should be directed to the members of the government of the other group (60 vs 40%), and should be accompanied by proposals for new kinds of alliance (61 vs 42%), cooperation (79 vs 54%), or commercial offers (77 vs 51%). In contrast the Angolans, significantly more than the other groups, agreed with the idea that the request be accompanied by proposals for new kinds of cohabitation (56 vs 34%).

The Mozambicans, significantly more than the other groups (P < 0.001), agreed with the idea that the request may be made a long time after the offenses have been committed (61 vs 37%), that it is the role of the head of the group to speak in the name of the group requesting forgiveness (75 vs 56%), and that a fraction of the group (a political party) may ask forgiveness in its name only (71 vs 50%). They also, more than the other groups, disagreed with the idea that the request should be voiced in several languages with broad international diffusion (75 vs 53%) or broad regional diffusion (69 vs 50%), and that persons from world organizations are in a better position to speak in the name of the group requesting forgiveness (73 vs 55%). The Mozambicans, significantly more than the other groups, disagreed with the idea that the request should be accompanied by proposals for new kinds of collaboration (73 vs 48%).

The East Timorese, significantly less than the other groups (P < 0.001), agreed with the idea that it is the role of the head of the group (or the Head of State) to speak in the name of the group that requests forgiveness (44 vs 64%) and that the request should be voiced from the House of Representatives of the group that requests forgiveness (47 vs 67%). The East Timorese, significantly more than the other groups, agreed with the idea that the request should be voiced in the name of all the members of the group that request forgiveness (59 vs 38%), and that the request should be accompanied by acts of reparation for the offenses that have been committed (67% vs 44%), by proposals for new kinds of collaboration (61 vs 27%, item 66), and by commercial offers (52 vs 26%). The East Timorese, significantly less than the other groups, agreed with the idea that the request should be voiced in diverse parts of the territory of the group that is requested to forgive (51 vs 76%), and that it should be voiced in several languages with broad international diffusion (39 vs 62%). The East Timorese, significantly less than the other groups, disagreed with the idea that it should be accompanied by proposals for new kinds of cooperation (40 vs 66%).

Differences to the findings of Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007)

The Congolese, significantly less than the four groups considered in the present study (P < 0.001), agreed with the idea that it is the role of traditional authorities to speak in the name of the requesting group (30 vs 63%), and that it is the role of persons from world institutions to speak in the name of the requesting group (26 vs 58%). The Congolese, significantly less than the other groups, agreed with the idea that the request may be voiced from the UN (32 vs 69%), and with the idea that the request must be directed to the head of the group that is requested to forgive (30 vs 70%). They also, significantly less than the other groups, agreed with the idea that the request must be accompanied by expressions of repentance from the persons who are responsible for the atrocities (34 vs 71%), by acts of punishment of the persons responsible for the atrocities (12 vs 68%), and by a donation of money (14 vs 67%). The Congolese, significantly more than the other groups, agreed with the idea that forgiveness must be requested in the language of the group that is requested to forgive (60 vs 30%), and that the request must be made in diverse places of the whole territory (58 vs 21%). The Congolese, significantly more than the other groups, disagreed with the idea that the request must be directed to persons exerting traditional authority (21 vs 52%), and that forgiveness must be requested only in the name of the persons who are not responsible for the atrocities (21 vs 73%).

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References
  9. Appendix

During data collection, and as was also observed by Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007), the participants showed interest in the study and were usually willing to dedicate the time to answer carefully the many questions in the survey. A large majority of participants agreed that forgiveness as an intergroup process is feasible. Only about 12% of the participants thought that it was not possible for a group of people to ask another group of people for forgiveness. This basic result was robust with respect to age, gender, educational level, country of residence, and other individual differences. It was consistent with the results of the study by Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007). It was also consistent with the results of a study by Kadima Kadiangandu et al. (2007) that showed that the Congolese did not conceptualize forgiveness as a strictly dyadic process. In their view, forgiveness was extensible to people outside the offended–offender dyad (e.g. an institution, a state, a church, a dead person). It was also consistent with Shriver’s (1995, p. 177) view that African (Americans) have a cultural “predisposition toward, an ingrained gift for, injecting forgiveness into their political relations” with others. It was, finally, consistent with the concept of restorative diplomacy that was proposed by Braithwaite (2002, p. 170) who conceived it “as a process of healing the emotions of divided peoples.”

Participants appeared to have clear conceptions of what the process of asking for intergroup forgiveness could be. Asking for intergroup forgiveness was conceived above all as a popular, democratic process. Participants clearly agreed that public discussions and voting must take place before any concrete actions by politicians and that the people who would speak on behalf of the whole group must be representative of the group (e.g. the Head of State, a respected person). This is consistent with the findings in the study by Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007). This is also consistent with Tavuchis’ view that an apology “from the Many to the Many” (1991, p. 98) can only be voiced by an authoritative deputy, a person truly representing the group (see also Digeser 2001). This is consistent with Braithwaite’s (2002) views that elite diplomacy is inadequate for securing a lasting peace: “Peacemaking must be democratized; it must heal whole peoples, preparing the soil of popular sentiments for peace and democracy” (p. 185). In addition, that a third party (an influential member of the UN) may also be considered as a person who can acceptably speak in the name of the requesting group is consistent with Braithwaite’s analyses (2002, p. 175), showing that, in some circumstances, third parties were crucial in setting the stage for many instances of dispute resolution.

Participants were willing to acknowledge that persons in charge politically (a political party, the Head of State) may initiate the process of asking for forgiveness. Participants conceived of intergroup forgiveness as a collective and global process but, interestingly, tended to exclude from the requesting process the very persons who are responsible for the atrocities. This is reminiscent of Hayner’s views (2002, p. 206; see also Shraga 2005) about the possible complementarity of restorative means such as truth commissions, and more classical, retributive means such as national or international tribunals for achieving a peaceful transition in post-conflict societies. This is in complete agreement with Braithwaite’s theoretical suggestions involved in his regulatory pyramid (2002, p. 32): “criminalization provides a new peak to the enforcement pyramid against war crimes” (p. 202).

Participants agreed that asking for forgiveness should occur not too long after the events. This makes perfect sense: the quicker the intergroup reconciliation, the better for everybody. They were, however, aware that this view is not always realistic and that the process may also acceptably be initiated much later after the atrocities. In effect, asking for forgiveness being conceived as a democratic process, such a process usually takes time. This has been well illustrated with what 20th-century history has taught us: it took 25 years for a German chancellor publicly to express repentance for the Holocaust and 45 years for a Japanese prime minister to apologize for certain crimes committed during World War II. Before initiating the forgiving process, “victims and transgressors must agree on a history of what has happened” (Digeser 1998, p. 707), and this can take a long time.

Asking for intergroup forgiveness was conceived in essence as a public process. Participants clearly agreed that the process has to take place inside the symbolic places of the group that is requested to forgive (ideally, the governmental palace) or of the group that requests forgiveness (e.g. a sacred place) and that the language used should be a language with a broad international diffusion rather than the language of the group that is requested to forgive. This is consistent with Tavuchis’ conception of intergroup apologies. They must be “quintessentially public,” not the private opinions of the deputies; they are a matter for public record. They should be “addressed to a wider audience as much as it is to the offended party” in order that the forgiveness process also “speaks to interested third parties” (Tavuchis 1991, p. 101; see also Digeser 2001). This was also consistent with the decision made by Japanese Prime Minister Miyazawa to present before the Korean National Assembly his sincere apologies for Japan’s treatment of the Korean people before and during World War II. This is, finally, consistent with Braithwaite’s views that secret mediation among the elite is no longer a viable perspective for solving modern disputes: “Peacemaking is needed on the ground, among the ordinary people (2002, p. 187).”

Asking intergroup forgiveness was conceived as implying the expression of particular sentiments or emotions from the people who ask for forgiveness (e.g. contrition, remorse, repentance). It was also conceived as implying concrete behaviors attesting to the sincerity of the demand (e.g. a gift of money, punishment of the persons responsible for the atrocities). This is not consistent with Tavuchis’ assertion (1991, p. 100) that the status of the involved parties “entails a stylized approach to language and way of speaking that allows little room for the kind of spontaneity, flexibility, or improvisations found in ordinary speech.” This is, however, consistent with what has been observed in concrete situations. When, in 1970, Chancellor Brandt kneeled before the city’s memorial to the Warsaw ghetto uprising of 1943, he behaviorally, if not verbally, expressed deep emotions. In 1992, in his speech to the Korean National Assembly during the first visit to Korea of a Japanese Prime Minister, Kiichi Miyazawa said: “I cannot help feeling acutely distressed over this [about 100 000 Korean women were sexually exploited for the comfort of Japanese soldiers], and I present my sincere apology… I am determined to nurture in the Japanese people, especially our youth, the courage to face squarely the past facts, understanding for the feelings of the victims, and a sense of admonition that these deeds should never be repeated” (International Herald Tribune, 20 January 1992). More generally, and for psychological reasons, it is difficult to imagine that a political leader who is intimately convinced that his or her nation committed atrocities against another nation and is determined to publicly seek forgiveness for the atrocities should be perfectly able to repress the intense emotion he or she may feel at the very moment of presenting his or her request. In a certain way, expressing too much detachment when publicly seeking forgiveness would run the risk of being interpreted as a basic lack of empathy for the suffering of the victims or as mere reluctance for seeking forgiveness. Overall, this view is consistent with basic principles in restorative justice where the experience and expression of emotions play a crucial role in the process of dispute resolution (Braithwaite 2002; see also Harris et al. 2004).

The participants of our study saw the essential aim of requesting forgiveness as promoting reconciliation between the two groups, in accordance with Digeser’s (2001) views. They clearly agreed that concessions should be made, if needed, to facilitate the process. In addition, they agreed that both parties should make plans for living in a more interdependent fashion. This finding is consistent with the findings in Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007). It is also consistent with Tavuchis’ idea that asking for forgiveness should be a prelude to reconciliation between the groups, with Thomas and Garrod’s (2002) findings that young Bosnians who were severely hurt during the war essentially want to achieve reconciliation with Serbs and Croats, and, more generally, with Braithwaite’s (2002, p. 185) views that “most people fundamentally want peace, prosperity, and freedom more than they want revenge.” The process of asking for intergroup forgiveness was, however, seen as distinct from the initiation of a commercial agreement, or a military treaty.

Several differences between the four groups considered in the present study emerged. More than the other groups in the study, the Angolans conceived the process as an holistic process, a process that involved all the members of the requesting group: the ones who were directly responsible for the atrocities as well as the others, and the ones who wished to seek forgiveness as well as the ones who were reluctant. They did not consider as appropriate the perspective of a new alliance or a new kind of cooperation. The Angolan views were, in this respect, closer to those that were expressed by the Congolese in the study by Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007). This may be explained by geographical as well as cultural proximity between Kasaï (the province in Congo where the survey was conducted) and Angola. This may also be explained by similarities in political contexts. In Angola in particular, the two factions that fought for 25 years have now signed an agreement that provides for the complete integration of the militias in the army and the complete integration of the opponents in political life.

More than the other groups in the study, the Mozambicans conceived the process as a broad, international process. This probably reflects the way that Mozambican factions reached agreement (the Rome General Peace Accords) after 25 years of bloody conflict; that is, only through the effective mediation of the Community of Sant’Egidio with the support of the UN. Also, this accords well with the fact that Mozambique decided to join the Commonwealth of Nations, becoming the only member that was never part of the old British Empire. The Mozambican government and its people have apparently understood that the more the nations become regionally interdependent, the less they risk resorting to violence as a way to solve internal or interstate disputes (Braithwaite 2002, p. 169).

More than the other groups in the study, the East Timorese agreed with the idea that the request should be accompanied with commercial offers, proposals for new kinds of collaboration, and acts of reparation for the harm done. This reflects the fact that the future of this country is largely dependent on the attitude of its powerful neighbor: Indonesia. East Timor is the poorest country of the world: Indonesian assistance and collaboration is, logically, conceived as vital.

Finally, differences were found between the results of the present study and the results of the study conducted in Congo (Kadima Kadiangandu & Mullet 2007). One of the differences was regarding the role of the world institutions (the UN) in the seeking forgiveness process. In the present study, this role was considered as important in the four groups (and extremely important among the Mozambicans), which contrasted with the views expressed by the Congolese. This may be explained by the fact that the respondents in the study by Kadima Kadiangandu and Mullet (2007) may have considered that the international community did not do much about stopping the violence and assisting the refugees (Kakonde Luteke 1997). As a result, these respondents tended to believe that their fate was in their hands, with only the assistance of some non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Also, the Congolese, more than the groups considered in the present study (except the East Timorese), agreed with the idea that the request should be expressed in many points in the territory. This possibly reflects the fact that in many parts of Kasaï, the national and international media are not available. For both sets of reasons, the participants may have expressed viewpoints that are strongly anchored in their daily, local reality.

The second difference was regarding the role of traditional authorities. In the present study, this role was considered as possibly important in the four groups (but never extremely important), which contrasted somewhat with the views expressed by the Congolese. Other groups do not, to the same extent as seems to be the case in Kasaï, share a defiant attitude toward traditional authorities.

The third difference was regarding the expression of repentance and contrition from the group seeking forgiveness. In the present study, expression of repentance and concrete behaviors that contribute to give credence to these expressions (e.g. punishment of the responsible perpetrators) were uniformly considered as important in the four groups, which strongly contrasted with the views expressed by the Congolese. This may be explained by the fact that the very persons (President Mobutu and the Governor of Shaba) who were at the origin of the troubles in this part of Congo were dead or had disappeared. Future study would, however, be needed for better understanding this contrast in responses.

In summary, in the five groups that have been studied to date (Angola, Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and East Timor), most participants agreed with the ideas that (i) seeking intergroup forgiveness makes sense; (ii) the seeking process must be a popular, democratic, and public process, not a secret elite negotiation; (iii) the process must be initiated and conducted by people in charge politically, not by dissident factions; and (iv) the process is aimed at reconciliation, not at humiliating the requesting group. Differences between groups exist regarding the extent to which (i) international organizations may be involved in the process; (ii) the demand must include the former perpetrators; and (iii) emotions and material compensation are essential ingredients in the process.

Limitations of the study

The present study was conducted on only three African samples and one Asiatic sample. Although the observed results form a clear and understandable pattern, replicating findings from a previous study, the extent to which these results can be extended to other people from other regions (e.g. Latin America, Tibet) who have suffered from civil wars or wars with their neighbors is still largely uncertain. In addition, for practical reasons, participants were, disproportionately, educated volunteers, many of whom were contacted through other participants in the research. Although special efforts were made to contact people from different geographic areas and from different educational levels, we are unsure about the representativeness of the overall sample. It is, however, reassuring that no difference between genders or as a function of age and education was found.

In addition, again for practical reasons, some aspects of the process of asking for intergroup forgiveness were not examined, notably the concrete contents of the messages requesting forgiveness. Should the request detail all or part of the offenses committed by the requesting group (as in von Weizsäcker’s 1985 address to the Bundestag; New York Times, 12 May 1985)? Should it also refer to the possible offenses committed by the other group (as recommended by Shriver 1995)?

Finally, further research is also needed on the process of requesting forgiveness in those complex situations in which the perpetrator and victim roles are not clearly separated, that is, in situations in which the same people have been, in various proportions, both victims and perpetrators.

Acknowledgments

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References
  9. Appendix

This work was supported by the Université de Toulouse (CNRS, EPHE, UTM), and by the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation (grant no. PTDC/PSI/55336/2006). The authors are grateful to Sheyna Sears-Roberts for her comments on a draft, and to Dr Luis Costa for his help in translating the questionnaire to Tetum.

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  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References
  9. Appendix
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Appendix

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References
  9. Appendix
Historical and geographical background of the present study
Angola

Angola is located in southern Africa. Its capital city is Luanda, and its population is about 12,000,000. It is bordered by the Democratic Republic of Congo to the north, Namibia to the south, and Zambia and Botswana to the east. Angola was a Portuguese colony from the 15th century to 1975. In the early 1960s, elements of independence movements (namely, the Movement for the Liberation of Angola [MPLA] and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola [UNITA]) fought a war against the Portuguese. The movements were, however, divided. The US, Zaïre, and South Africa favored UNITA; Cuba and the Soviet Union favored the MPLA.

In 1975, the MPLA (led by Agostinho Neto), who controlled the rich coastal zone, declared independence. UNITA (led by Jonas Savimbi) created an opposition government in the areas it controlled and launched a civil war against the MLPA, which lasted about 15 years. In 1991, an agreement was signed between the two parties (the Bicesse Accord) that spelled out that an electoral process should take place for the designation of a unitary, democratic government. MPLA had 49% of the votes, against 40% for UNITA. Jonas Savimbi, rejecting the results, resumed the civil war. In 1994, a second agreement (the Lusaka Accord) was signed that provided for the integration into the government and the military of the members of UNITA. However, Savimbi, whose ambitions were thwarted, renewed the civil war for a second time.

In 1997, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on UNITA. In 1999, the government launched a massive offensive and gained military control of the major cities previously controlled by UNITA. Sawimbi decided, nevertheless, to continue the civil war, returning to guerrilla tactics. It is estimated that the extended civil war (25 years) cost the lives of 1.5 million persons and rendered hundreds of thousands of people homeless. In 2002, Savimbi was killed. In the few weeks after his death, UNITA and MPLA signed a cease-fire. UNITA agreed to become a political party, and demobilized its force. Angola is currently at peace under the leadership of Agostinho Neto’s successor, President dos Santos. As a result of its political instability from the time of the declaration of independence, Angola faces huge social and economic problems. With about $6 a day for living, the average Angolese citizen is not, however, among the poorest citizens of the world.

Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau is located in western Africa. Its capital city is Bissau, and its population is about 1,500,000. It is bordered by Senegal to the north and Guinea to the south and east. Guinea-Bissau was a Portuguese colony from the 15th century to 1973. In 1956, a rebellion against the Portuguese was initiated by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) that was favored by China, the Soviet Union, and African countries. PAIGC quickly gained military control over large portions of the country. In 1973, the PAIGC militarily declared independence. Independence was recognized by a UN General Assembly vote.

Until 1984, however, no electoral process took place, and the country was governed by a revolutionary council. In 1994, the first truly democratic elections were held, and President João Bernardo Vieira was elected. In 1998, an army coup ousted the President, and the country entered a period of civil war. In 2000, new elections were held, and Kumba Ialá was elected as President. In 2003 a second army coup took place, and the President was arrested. In 2004, legislative elections were held, but a mutiny of army officers resulted in the death of the head of the armed forces and caused widespread turmoil in the country. In 2005, presidential elections were held, and João Bernardo Vieira was re-elected as President. As of 2007, the situation in Guinea-Bissau is calm but, as a result of the very destructive 1998–1999 civil war, this country is among the twenty poorest countries of the world, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of about $2 a day.

Mozambique

Mozambique is located in southern Africa. Its capital city is Maputo, and its population is about 18,000,000. It is bordered by Tanzania and Malawi to the north, South Africa to the south, and Zambia and Zimbabwe to the west. Mozambique was a Portuguese colony from the 16th century to 1975. In 1962, several anticolonial movements created the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), led by Eduardo Mondlane, which initiated sporadic fighting against the Portuguese in 1964.

In 1974, FRELIMO took control of Maputo and expelled many Portuguese colonists. In 1975, Mozambique became independent, but the country was left with few internal human resources. In the hope of receiving technical assistance, FRELIMO aligned with the Soviet Union and its allies, and established a socialist state. In 1982, an anti-communist movement sponsored by Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the US, RENAMO, launched a series of attacks on basic facilities, and the whole country plunged into civil war. In 1986, President Samora Machel, who was aware of the failure of its politics and was considering the democratization of the country, died in an air crash that may have been planned by the South African government.

In 1990, as a result of the events in South Africa, support for RENAMO declined, and this movement accepted direct talks with the FRELIMO government. In 1992, a new constitution was adopted, and periodic elections were agreed on by both parties at the Rome General Peace Accords between President Chissano and RENAMO leader Afonso Dhlakama. In 1994, free elections were held that were won by FRELIMO. In 1995, Mozambique joined the Commonwealth of Nations.

The number of deaths attributable to the civil war is estimated to be 1,000,000, and the number of refugees who had, fearing the consequences of the civil war, sought asylum in neighboring countries is estimated to be about 1,700,000. In addition, 4,000,000 persons were internal refugees. By 1995, all these refugees had returned to their homes. In 1999, a second round of elections was held. FRELIMO (the winner) was accused by RENAMO of fraud, and, for a time, RENAMO considered returning to civil war. In 2000, the country was devastated by a cyclone. As of 2007, the country is calm, but very far from having recovered from colonialism, communism, civil war, and natural disasters. With about $3 a day for living, the average Mozambican citizen is among the poorest citizens of the world.

East Timor

East Timor is located on the island of Timor, in southern Asia. Its capital city is Dili, and its population is about 1,000,000. It is bordered by Indonesia to the west. East Timor was a Portuguese colony from 1702 to 1975. In 1859, the Portuguese, who occupied the whole island, ceded the western portion to the Netherlands. From 1942 to 1945, Japan occupied the country, which resulted in the deaths of 40,000–70,000 Timorese.

In 1975, East Timor gained its independence but, a few days later, was invaded and occupied by Indonesian forces almost entirely using US-supplied military equipment. It was reported that, during the invasion, mass killings and mass rapes took place. In 1976, the country became the Indonesian province of East Timor. Over the next two decades, between 100,000 and 250,000 individuals were killed as result of the fighting against the occupant and the local militia.

In 1991, the public opinion in the West was made aware of the situation in East Timor by an unexpected TV report that many East Timorese youngsters had been killed at the Santa Cruz Cemetery in Dili. This massacre, and the publicity around it, attracted sympathy for the Timorese cause. In 1996, Bishop Carlos Belo of Dili and José Manuel Ramos Horta, two leading activists for peace and independence, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1997, South African President Nelson Mandela visited Suharto and the imprisoned Xanana Gusmão, the leader of the National Front for the Liberation of Timor (FRETILIN), and future first president of East Timor, and urged the liberation of East Timorese leaders. In 1998, President Suharto was led to resign, and President Habibie offered East Timor autonomy within Indonesia.

In 1999, international pressure gained momentum and President Habibie was forced to announce the holding of a UN-supervised referendum about the future of East Timor. An overwhelming majority of East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia. Infuriated with the results, anti-independence Timorese militias supported by the army of occupation decided to pursue a scorched-earth policy. They launched a series of attacks against properties, irrigation and water supply systems, public buildings, hospitals, and schools. About 300,000 people were forcibly driven into West Timor as refugees, and about 2,000 were assassinated. In late 1999, a multinational peacekeeping force was sent by the UN that put an end to the violence.

In 2002, East Timor was recognized by the UN as an independent state. As of 2007, the country is still in a state of unrest, and Australia, Portugal, New Zealand, and, recently, Malaysia, has had to send troops to Timor in an effort to stop the violence between the government and part of the military. With about $1 a day for living, the average East Timorese citizen is the poorest citizen of the world.